So as you may have heard already, senior walk-on guard Jason Colenda has voluntarily left the men's basketball program to concentrate on academics and his plans to obtain a graduate degree. Colenda played in 28 games over three seasons with the Wildcats and has scored two points. This isn't really a huge event for the team, so not much more information is available about it.
Colenda came to the team as a "preferred walk-on" after being an All-State guard at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, Va, leading them to Virginia state championships. During his freshman year he was among the program's faceless "practice players" who show up to work outs and practices to push the rostered players; he earned a spot on the bench as a sophomore.
I did a quick review of NCAA by-laws this afternoon: Practice players are considered part of the program. The athletics department has to clear them to participate in the program, just like the roster players. They are therefore ineligible to play intramural or club sports like any other varsity athlete.
The question I had was: Could Jay Wright add another walk-on from the practice-player pool mid-season? Yes.
If you remember 2005-2006, the program added Shane Clark to the active roster in December (after his transfer became official). That was a case of a player coming in to fill an empty roster spot and empty scholarship, but it still demonstrates that when a roster spot is open mid-season, an eligible player can be added.
If a scholarship player voluntarily leaves the program, his scholarship becomes available to any other eligible non-scholarship player who is already with the program (this means that the replacement player takes over the scholarship "count" of the departed student). Colenda was not an athletic-scholarship player however, and Jay Wright could certainly promote a player from the practice 'pool' to warm that spot on the bench if he deemed it necessary for depth.
Will they do that? There probably isn't much harm that can be done by having another warm body on the bench. However, there really isn't much precedent to it. A walk-on player is less a necessity for Villanova than it is a "thank-you" to one or two of the best practice players. If you see a new face take over Colenda's spot on the roster it will not be a "default" promotion, but a player who has earned their jersey by working hard to make our scholarship players better.
Update: There has apparently been some speculation that Jason Colenda's departure from the program was not voluntary... As a non-scholarship player, there wouldn’t be any real benefit to the Athletics Dept. in claiming that he left voluntarily when he did not. The only real NCAA rules regarding the addition or removal of players from a team deal with the availability of scholarships. If he wasn't occupying a scholarship, it wouldn't be an issue.
Where it gets sticky is if Colenda was receiving financial aid from the university (even if it was no different that any non-athlete’s financial aid package). Since he was "recruited" (as a preferred walk-on), that could qualify him as a “counter” under NCAA by-law 15. That said, he would not be a counter so long as the athletics department certified that his financial aid was not dependent upon his participation in the basketball (or another athletics) program AND he did not actually participate in varsity competition...
...that last clause is the operative one. If Colenda receives ANY financial aid package from Villanova (or even certain third-parties), he would count as a scholarship player the second he suited up. Under by-law 13, any student-athlete whose enrollment in the institution is solicited by athletics staff is "recruited," no scholarship offer is required.
So IF Colenda has a financial aid package (of any sort, even entirely academic), it is plausible that his "voluntary" departure from the program could benefit athletics by allowing another recruited student (who is receiving financial aid) to step into his bench spot once the fall semester ends. The limit for men's basketball "counters" in any program is 13.
I doubt that the basketball program would be willing to cheat the system over something as petty as a walk-on roster spot, however.